written by Zak Penn & Joss Whedon (based on characters created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)
starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard & Samuel L. Jackson
The man tasked with landing Marvel's four-year plan safely is geek god Joss Whedon—of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly fame and Alien Resurrection notoriety. Luckily, Whedon's background writing for ensembles of sassy women and snarky men, with dialogue laced with one-liners and geeky references, is exactly what's required when handling a gargantuan project like The Avengers. (Which, given the aggregate time and energy spent prepping it, probably would have been considered a flop if it hadn't broken the $1bn ceiling.)
This movie was always in safe hands from a fan's perspective, and Whedon's enough of a showman to give casual moviegoers their fix of jokes, fights, CGI, stunts, and a finale that puts Transformers, Armageddon and Independence Day in a blender. (That could be Randy Quaid in Iron Man's suit delivering a missile up a mid-air alien orifice, right?) Whedon also seems to appreciate the work of Gerry Anderson—as this movie's Helicarrier is surely in homage to Captain Scarlet's Cloudbase. (He effectively updated Anderson's Joe 90 series as Dollhouse a few years ago, too.) This is an unusual position to be in for Whedon—as the world's his oyster post-Avengers, and he's already agreed to create a TV series based on S.H.I.E.L.D—but this movie is easily the most anonymous piece of work he's ever put out. Tony Stark's quips may sound Whedon-y, but it's become difficult to remember who inspired who.
The actors are great, but undoubtedly it's Downey Jr who gets to shine the most as the irrepressible Stark, but Ruffalo does impressive work with a role that Eric Bana and Edward Norton struggled with. As other critics have mentioned, it does seem to help that Banner doesn't have to shoulder the weight of an entire movie, which has ironically proven too much for the strongman in the past. The Hulk himself gets many of the best moments, certainly in terms of physical comedy. For what it's worth, Evans is equally as good as he was headlining the somewhat underrated Captain America, Hemsworth is marginally less impressive as Thor this time out, Johansson manages to hold her own against personalities who are significantly more fun, Jackson does what he's been doing intermittently for years as one-eyed Nick Fury, and Hiddleston again proves to be one of cinema's most entertaining boo-hiss villains. The only real disappointment is Renner as Hawkeye, who spends too much time as a brainwashed zombie, and predictably struggles to convince modern audiences that a crack shot with a bow-and-arrow is of any goddamn use against an armoured alien horde.
There isn't much going on in The Avengers' head, even compared to each character's individual preambles... but as a triumphant fist-pump of a viewing experience, it brings all the action, humour, pace, and spectacle people expect from movies of this size and scale. I just hope the sequel (currently scheduled for 2015) will deliver more story over set-pieces, as the novelty of this huge undertaking will inevitably dim.
Marvel Studios; $220m (budget)